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School Funding Debates Reignites At Statehouse

Public school advocates say the state’s Republican leaders are moving Ohio in the wrong direction when it comes to funding public education. That's bringing protesters back to the Ohio Statehouse. Ruth Ann Wolf of the Cincinnati area is a public school parent who says she’s tired of a school funding formula that treats children differently because of their zip code. Wolf says the current funding formula relies too heavy on property taxes and puts schools in impossible situations. "Every day we fact huge obstacles that cannot be fixed by baking brownies or selling wrapping paper.," Wolf says. A former Democratic state lawmaker who worked on school funding issues when he was in the legislature says the state has taken a step backward when it comes to funding schools properly. Steven Dyer with the progressive think tank Innovation Ohio says during the past couple of years, Republican state leaders have focused more on providing income tax breaks and helping charter schools than helping to fix an over reliance on property taxes. Dyer says more districts are going back to homeowners more often now because public schools don’t have enough money. But he says public school advocates need to keep the heat on lawmakers over this issue. "Even the guy in green eggs and ham was eventually won over by persistence," Dyer says. Melissa Cropper with the Ohio Federation of Teachers says lawmakers need to fix the school funding system now, then stick with the plan. "We cannot have a funding system that changes every time our politicians change." Cropper and other public school advocates pushing for a new funding formula are taking their voices straight to lawmakers. They marched on to Capitol Square Wednesday, carrying signs and chanting, hoping to make their voices heard. But Republican Representative Lou Blessing says lawmakers had good reason to lower income taxes when this general assembly began. "We need to keep business here and attract businesses here," Blessing says. "That’s the whole focus of it. Once you get people, entrepreneurs and businesses here, those tax problems will be solved. "You keep raising taxes like that and paying for public services and you are going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg so we have a fundamental disagreement with those folks that are protesting." Blessing says schools will be getting some much-needed revenue soon from casinos. Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Governor Kasich, says it was not the Governor's fault that some schools were forced to make big cuts. "Many of these schools were living off stimulus spending and everyone warned schools that money was going away and not coming back," Nichols says. "So for many of those schools that were paying salaries and operating on stimulus money, they knew as well as everyone else that that money was going away." Nichols says Governor Kasich's school funding plan is still being crafted. "They are criticizing a school funding plan that has not even been introduced yet," Nichols says. But the public school funding activists say they don’t like what they’ve seen from the Governor and lawmakers during the past year and a half. And the advocates say they will keep the heat on to try to convince lawmakers to reduce reliance on property taxes and change the system so all schools have the funding they need.